Using Morae with ‘e’

In this post I’m going to talk about how we can use our understanding of morae to better understand some grammar rules. You can read about morae in the previous post.

Even if you have just started learning Māori, you will have learnt about the little word “e” which is used at the start of certain phrases – but only in front of some words and not others. Well, whether or not to use “e” is determined by the number of morae! Note: we’re not talking about “e” as a tense marker like in e…ana, but rather like in the examples below.

Here’s some examples of the types of sentences we’re talking about:

  1. Greetings:  Kia ora, e Hone. vs. Kia ora, Anahera.
  2. Commands:  E tū! vs. Haere mai!
  3. Numbers:  E rua aku pene. vs. Tekau aku pene.

The rule is:

If there are fewer than 3 morae, use ‘e’; if there are 3 or more morae, skip the ‘e’.

You can kind of see it as making sure the word is long enough – if there’s not enough morae, you need to add one in in the form of ‘e’.

These structures are sometimes explained in terms of having “2 or fewer syllables” which as we know from the previous post, is close but not quite right as you can have a single syllable with two (or more) morae. The rule is also often explained in terms of the number of vowels – if there are 2 or fewer vowels then use ‘e’. This is actually correct because our definition of a mora is that it is of the form (C)V, i.e. one vowel and an optional consonant. So you can count the vowels and you will be counting the morae – so long as you remember letters like ā represent two vowels: aa.

I’m not going to go into the grammar structures in detail as I just want to highlight the use of morae with them and hopefully you already know them, or if not they are covered in any text book.

Our grammar rules for the three cases are as follows:

  1. Use e before a (Māori) name or a term of address if there are fewer than 3 morae, e.g. Kia ora, e Hone (2 morae: Ho – ne)
  2. In a command, use e before the verb if it has fewer than 3 morae, e.g. E tū! (2 morae: tu – u)
    • This is only for single word verbs without any additional words added, e.g. if it was Tū mai then we don’t use e
  3. When saying how many things there are, use e before the number if it has fewer than 3 morae, e.g. E rua (2 morae: ru – a)

Even if you already knew the rule “use e for fewer than 3 vowels” hopefully it was interesting to learn about the rule in terms of morae as it encompasses the structure of the whole word rather than just the vowels. For me personally, it seems more concrete and less arbitrary to think in terms of morae rather than vowels.


Koe, Kōrua, Koutou

So, last week I mentioned how you could say hello to people using tēnā koe/kōrua/koutou, which are all different words for “you” when speaking to different numbers of people.

So here’s a couple of little mnemonic things to help you remember – not the words themselves – but just to remember kind of which words refer to which number of people.

If we write the words out like this:

  1. Koe
  2. Kōrua
  3. Koutou

Then you can see that the words get longer the more people they refer to! So, just like in the numbering of the list, koe refers to 1 person, kōrua to 2 people and koutou to 3 or more, and the words themselves get longer as they refer to more people.

They also all have one more vowel than the word before – so koe has 2 vowels, kōrua has 3 vowels, and koutou has 4. Of course, all the words begin with “k” as well, so that’s one less thing to remember because that is consistent.

For some people this will just be really confusing, and they will be able to remember the words quite easily just as they are, but personally I find it easier to remember a rule like this than to memorise the spelling (initially of course – later I know the word well enough to know it automatically). A lot of people don’t notice these rules and connections, so I just want to point them out in case they turn out to be useful to someone.

Note: these mnemonics only work with this method of spelling/writing Māori words! If you use the double-vowel method rather than macrons, they will be written koe, koorua, koutou and they no longer create the useful pattern!

Nōku te Whiwhi – He Kīwaha

A couple of months ago we went through a bunch of kīwaha (idioms) at a noho, and included in that list was Nōku te whiwhi. I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, but then someone used it in class a couple of weeks ago and now it is stuck in my head – which is useful for learning, but annoying because now I would like to think something else now please! So I’d thought I’d write a blog post and perhaps “unstick” it a little bit. 🙂

Like any colloquialism or idioim, a kīwaha doesn’t usually mean literally what it says. However, they’re useful to know – not only because you know more of the language and can speak more naturally, but because any memorised set phrase (waiata/song, kīwaha/idiom, whakatauki/saying, karakia/prayer) gives you a building block for understanding similarly structured phrases later on.

But first, what does it mean?!

Nōku te whiwhi

is a positive statement about how lucky you are. In class we translated it as I’m blessed but you could also say my gain, lucky me, I’ve got a beauty, I am fortunate (from MaoriDictionary). If you want to hear how to pronounce this kīwaha, you can listen on the entry on MaoriDictionary.

Whiwhi itself can also be translated in many ways, but boils down to meaning to have, get or gain but usually with a positive spin on it, for example to receive or win something.

Nōku means belonging to me, mine.

So you can see in our kīwaha that “te whiwhi” is “mine” or “I have the whiwhi”, which is to say, I have the luck, the blessing, the gain, the positive thing.

You can use this kīwaha in a variety of ways:

  • just by itself, as a statement when something good has happened
  • before a sentence describing why you’re blessed
  • as part of a longer kīwaha, such as:
    • Nōku te whiwhi, nōku te harikoa
    • Nōku te waimarie, nōku te whiwhi

If this kīwaha sticks in your head like it did mine, you now have a really handy grammar example for how to use nōku! For some reason it’s much easier to remember a kīwaha than a grammar rule – it might take a while before it sticks, but once it does then it’s really in there. Check out these simple examples that all follow the same form as Nōku te whiwhi:

  • Nōku te hē – the fault is mine, it’s my fault
  • Nōku te whare – it’s my house
  • Nōku te pōtae – it’s my hat
  • Nāku te pene – it’s my pen (note change of a/o category)
  • Nāku tēnā ngeru – that cat is mine
  • Nāku tenei tamariki – this child is mine

So next time someone picks up your book in class and asks whose it is, if you remember nōku te whiwhi, you’ll easily be able to say nōku tēnā pukapuka!


Kia ora, te whānau

Note: I have checked 3 beginners books on te reo Māori and none of them have brought up this point, because they all only address greeting an individual or “you” (kōrua/koutou). So, I don’t know if this might be a bit controversial and if the “wrong” option might not be considered wrong by everyone? I will go with my teacher’s guidance on this. 

One of the mistakes that our kaiako picked up in our weekend noho was the common use of phrases in the incorrect form “Kia ora, whānau” rather than the correct “Kia ora, te whānau”. I had picked up on this usage a while back, but this is the first time anyone had mentioned it, and after thinking about it, I would say that “Kia ora, whānau” is not always wrong as such…

One of the things I find very interesting is the use of Māori words when speaking English, and twice as interesting is the transposition of those English versions back into te reo Māori. When speaking either English or Māori, whānau means family, both in the literal sense, but also in the sense of any connected group of people, for example your language learning class, or perhaps a club. In te reo Māori, whānau also means to be born, but this meaning hasn’t come over into the English usage of the word. I’m sure someone’s done a study on it, but it seems that its mainly nouns that transfer over into English, not the verbs.

So, if we look at English, we know you can say any of the following:

  • Hello, George
  • Hello, guys
  • Hello, class

Thus it follows that, when speaking English, you can also say (where kia ora means hello):

  • Kia ora, George
  • Kia ora, guys
  • Kia ora, class
  • Kia ora, whānau

So, in English, the phrase Kia ora, whānau is correct – even though those are both Māori words, they’re effectively being used “in English” and this is how we structure English. Therefore I think it is technically acceptable to say, “Kia ora, whānau, this evening we’re going to …” because we are speaking English and using the words in their English usage and meaning.

However, when speaking te reo Māori, you can’t just have nouns hanging out unsupported; although there’s bound to be some sneaky exceptions, as a general rule you need a definite or indefinite particle (te, ngā, he), a possessive (taku, tōna, etc), and so on before your noun, supporting it. So in te reo, you need to say something like one of the following:

  • Kia ora, te whānau
  • Kia ora, e te whānau

So “in Māori” you might say, “Kia ora, te whānau, ā tēnei pō …”.

However, what tends to happen is that the “English usage” is used by people speaking te reo, where it is no longer correct. For this reason, even though it might be technically correct to use the English usage when speaking the English language, I think it is better to get into the habit of using “te whānau” in English, even if you’re just throwing it in there as a greeting to a bunch of English-only speakers.